A graduate of The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, Denise Ortakales works as a freelance illustrator. Her award-winning paper sculptures have appeared in consumer and business magazines, as well as children’s magazines, such as Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, Click and ASK. She has illustrated several children’s books, including Planets, Carrot in My Pocket and Good Morning, Garden. Denise is also the author of The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain published by Sleeping Bear Press.

Her new passions are watercolor, hand lettering and surface pattern design. She has servesd as Co-Illustrator Coordinator for New England SCBWI since 2012. Denise is a life-long resident of Laconia, New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and dog, and misses her two grown kids terribly.



About Paper Sculpture

Why did you choose Paper Sculpture instead of drawing and painting like other illustrators?

I like to say that paper sculpture chose me instead of me choosing it. But in reality I remember seeing it as a child and wondering how they did that. When I was considering illustration as a career, I found a book on the paper sculpture and I knew that I had to try it. It was one of those Aha! moments in life that you shouldn't ignore.

How did you learn to do Paper Sculpture? Did you have to go to school?

I really taught myself. I went to art school twice but I didn't learn to do paper sculpture there. There are some books on the topic but the best way to learn is just to try it. I have a  class on Skillshare where I teach you how.

Couldn't you get the same look on the computer?

Yes, you could get a very similar look. But I enjoy the creating of the actual piece, getting sticky fingers and paper cuts. I've always enjoyed a variety of crafts and the computer just doesn't hold the same type of fascination for me. I do however use the computer as a tool in the sketch phase of my projects.

For Authors

I've written a great children's story. Would you illustrate it for me?

I love to illustrate great children's stories but I only work with established publishers. Illustrating a complete book is very time-consuming and would be very expensive for you. It's best to let the publisher absorb this cost.

Your manuscript has a better chance of being accepted without illustrations (unless YOU are a professional illustrator.) Your story needs to be strong enough to stand on its own. If it's not then no amount of beautiful illustrations will make it any better. And if it IS a strong story, how would you feel if it got rejected because they didn't like my illustrations?

Once your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, you can certainly ask them to consider using me as the illustrator for your book. But in reality, they have 1,000's of illustrators to choose from and are very good at matching up stories with the proper illustration style. Be open to their suggestions and trust their judgment. Good Luck!

How do I get published?

For more information on submitting your work to a publisher, consider joining the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They are a fantastic resource for writers and illustrators looking to be published. Many publishing houses look for manuscripts written by SCBWI members.

For Clients

How do you handle the photographing of your artwork?

Because my work is 3-dimensional and difficult to ship, I have it professionally photographed locally. The photographer and I work together to create depth using lighting and shadows. I can then supply you with digital files for publishing purposes.

Could you ship your artwork to us so we can have our own photographer shoot it?

I prefer not to. I can't guarantee that it won't get destroyed in shipping. If something fell off in shipping, would you feel comfortable gluing it back together? If cost is a consideration, I know from experience that packing, insurance, and overnight shipping costs (which I would insist upon) to and from your facilities costs considerably more than what my photographer charges, and then you still have to pay your photographer. I also prefer to be there when the photographer does his shoot so I can direct the lighting of the piece. This could be arranged if the photographer is in the New England area.

How long of a lead-time do you need to create your artwork?

Because 3-dimensional artwork takes a wee bit longer to create than traditional artwork and I have to work around my photographers schedule, I am not able to take on extremely tight deadlines. I usually need a minimum of one week.

How can I see more of your work?

If you'd like to see my portfolio in person, email me. Please specify the type of project you're working on and what type of samples you'd like to see.

For Illustrators

I'm an illustrator and would like to try Paper Sculpture. What do I need to consider?

Transferring the 3-dimensional image to a 2-dimensional page is by far the biggest headache. Unless you are a professional photographer, you need to hire one to insure that your work will look it's very best. At first, when you are just creating samples, it is a VERY expensive cost to cover. 

The other problem is storing these darn things. Make friends with a framer who will give you good deals, otherwise they start to pile up and take over closets.

Are there any schools that teach Paper Sculpture?

Not to my knowledge, but I do have a class on Sculpted Paper at Skillshare where I go over all the basics. 

Do you need to go to art school to become an illustrator?

Art School is absolutely not necessary to become an illustrator. No art director has ever asked to see my degree. It will, however, bring you up to speed quicker and perhaps save you from learning your lessons the hard way. I am a firm believer in the merits of art school but it may not be for everyone. Some of the benefits that you may not have thought of are:

  • Learning to talk intelligently about your work which you'll need to be able to do with an Art Director.
  • Learn to be objectively critical of your own work.
  • Form a circle of peers that you can call on for advice and comradery when you are out on your own.
  • If you can meet assignment deadlines in art school, you'll have no problems meeting deadlines in real life.